© Wizards of the Coast by Cristi Balanescu

Monster Slayer Ranger 5e Subclass Guide: We Need Van Helsing

Vampires, werewolves, demons, hags, dragons, and more. The things that go bump in the night are so integral to D&D that the first guide most 5e players pick up to learn about them is referred to as the Monster Manual. Not just a simple bestiary, we deal with monsters.

So sure, any adventurer is going to deal with monsters in their heroic campaigns at some point.

Images of mighty paladins smiting their fiendish foes, druids summoning up the power of nature to ensnare vicious dragons, and wizards sending balls of fire into a hoard of goblinoids all litter the pages of our adventure books.

Still, there are those whose sole purpose is to slay, to hunt down vile creatures, and put an end to their atrocities. Adventurers who learn every weakness a creature has and puts their knowledge to the test as they square off against unfathomable threats. 

Already well suited to choosing a favored enemy, there are rangers who dedicate themselves entirely to defeating all kinds of mystical and maniacal threats. 

The monster slayer ranger subclass hones their abilities so that they can become the very best at taking down any monster in their path. 

Class-Defining Abilities

  • Focusing on a specific target
  • Boosting defenses
  • Eliminating magical threats

The monster slayer class sounds amazing, but in reality, the abilities they get are pretty vague, largely underwhelming, and just all-around miss the mark in my eyes.

Instead of an amazing Van Helsing-like archetype that always has the right weapons for the job and understands the inner workings of every monster they come across, we see a character build here that is mostly defensive with only a few redeeming qualities.

I’m not here to trash it though, and I do want you to be able to play this character to all of your expectations. There’s a lot of roleplay value and if you can focus on the good mechanics while working around the bad ones, there is a good character somewhere in here.

So let’s start with the piece of this subclass that I really enjoy. Slayer’s prey is a feature we get at third level that plays into a few more abilities as we level up.

It allows you to choose a target as a bonus action that you can deal an extra 1d6 of damage to on the first attack you make against it on each of your turns.

If this sounds familiar, congratulations. You’re familiar with the spell Hunter’s Mark, a staple of the ranger spell list with this and a few more abilities. This means we’re getting free access to a spell that would normally require concentration.

If we really want, we can even stack the two so that we’re dealing 2d6 extra damage once a turn, which ain’t too shabby.

What makes the slayer’s prey feature worth it is that there is no limit on how often we can “cast” it. So target a monster, knock them down, and pick a new one until your party has saved the day.

The next ability we get plays into slayer’s prey. At 10th level we add a d6 to any saving throws that we are forced to make by the target of our slayer’s prey, and to any check to escape a grapple from them. 

Considering that rangers are given saving throw proficiency in strength and dexterity, this is a great boost for any of the other, perhaps more punishing saving throws a creature might force us to make.

It does mean we have to be a lot more decisive when we choose a target for our slayer’s prey though. Instead of just picking a creature to beat up on, we might be more incentivized to target something that can really hurt us.

The other defensive ability isn’t spectacular, but it’s not a limitation in and of itself, so I’ll put it here. Your penultimate feature, magic-user’s nemesis, which sounds supremely badass, lets you counter one spell a day… maybe. 

If you see a creature go to cast a spell or teleport, and I’m not even sure how that second part makes sense without metagaming, you can TRY to thwart them.

You force them to make a Wisdom save against your spell save DC and if they fail their spell fails. If they succeed, well, you can try again once you’ve made a long rest. But I’ll rag on this more in the limitations section below.

The final feature you get is slayer’s counter, a great ability, although it’s power level feels nowhere near worthy to be a capstone feature. What it does is let you react to a spell that forces you to make a saving throw with an attack. If you hit the creature you automatically succeed in the save.

While this is another ability that only functions with the target of your slayer’s prey, it’s pretty solid. You’re getting extra attacks in as reactions, and most of the time they’re going to be saving you from the nastier effects of spells.

What we have is a character that can defend themselves decently and deal a good amount of damage, against the target of their ire that is.

It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s a decent set of abilities that make a lot of sense for a ranger who already has a favored enemy at this point.

Limitations

Let me preface this by saying how much I want to like this subclass. It’s a whole hell of a lot okay. I love the archetype that this tries to highlight, and were it executed even slightly better I might consider this a good subclass.

As it stands, this subclass is mediocre at best, and there are plenty of other character builds out there far better suited to step into the shoes of a monster slayer.

  • Favored Foe / Hunter’s Mark does it better
  • Weak spell list
  • Too defensive for a “Slayer” archetype

So here’s the deal. We want our subclass to be exciting, powerful, and in general, to give us abilities that vastly improve the class. The monster slayer just doesn’t cut it. The biggest reason is actually its best ability, the slayer’s prey.

Slayer’s prey is supposed to allow us to choose a target and use our vast knowledge to take them down without being bested ourselves. It gets supplemented by two other features down the road to become something that’s really special.

Or it would if those options weren’t already available to the ranger class.

I think WotC knows they screwed up with this subclass from Xanathar’s guide, because when they brought the next supplemental rule book, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, brought us something pretty special.

An optional replacement feature for favored enemy, called favored foe, is essentially just a better version of the slayer’s prey feature’s core ability.

The favored foe feature lets us choose a target and deal extra damage to them on the first attack we make against them each turn. The drawback is that this, like hunter’s mark, requires concentration even though it isn’t a spell. The bonus is that this ability actually scales, reaching 1d8 extra damage by 14th level.

So basically you can choose any other ranger subclass, opt-in for this ability, and still do what the monster slayer does best. And that brings me to what really upsets me about this subclass.

Where is the focus on monsters?

Sure, monster isn’t a creature type in D&D, and just about anything from fey to fiend can fit the description, but the flavor text for this class even says “You have dedicated yourself to hunting down creatures of the night and wielders of grim magic.” Excuse me if I think that dedication implies some sort of focus. 

Instead, you can just as easily use these abilities on some human warmonger you happen to be facing. I guess it’s okay if someone calls them a monster?

There’s precedence for a class having a focus on specific enemy types too, which is what bugs me. Most of the oath of the watchers paladin’s subclass features allow them to expertly deal with aberrations, celestials, elementals, feys, or fiends. Some slight tweaking and you’ve got a well-trained monster hunter already.

Moving away from my opinions, let’s look at some facts. The spell list here is weak. Most of these spells are political in nature, controlling events on or off the battlefield somehow, or just plain defensive like Protection from Evil and Good. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s by no means helpful. 

For reference, the monster slayer’s spell list is as follows:

  • 3rd: Protection from Evil and Good
  • 5th: Zone of Truth
  • 9th: Magic Circle
  • 13th: Banishment
  • 17th: Hold Monster

Three out of five of those spells require your target to fail a saving throw, something a magical threat isn’t too likely to do very often. Like the magic user’s nemesis feature, which is just awful, you’re relying on these terrifying magical creatures to slip up, rather than setting yourself up for success.

Including buffing spells like Elemental Weapon to better combat a targeted monster’s weaknesses or combat spells like Booming Blade to give you an edge on your targets would be far more effective against most of the creatures I can imagine a monster slayer setting their sights on.

I want to run you through all the abilities of this class and tell you why I don’t like them. 

  • Hunter’s Sense – We don’t need to know what weaknesses or strengths a target has. It’s an extremely meta ability, and unless we’re packing a full arsenal of weapons for each damage type, it’s not going to do us much good anyways.
  • Slayer’s Prey – You can pick up extra damage anywhere, and a couple options are already part of the ranger class. Then we have the fact that the d6 never scales up, making it progressively less impressive as we get further in the campaign.
  • Supernatural Defense – The ability is nice, but it forces us to choose the target of our slayer’s prey as the creature on the field most likely to rock us with their magical abilities, and that might not necessarily be the first one we want to run after and smack with our swords.
  • Magic User’s Nemesis – Ugh. An ability that I can only use once a day is barely even ability. But then you’re going to have it be something that relies on a powerful magic being to fail a wisdom saving throw against my spell save DC?? The spell save DC of a character whose DC is set by a wisdom ability is probably only their second best score? No thank you.
  • Slayer’s Counter – I like this ability a lot actually, but it’s only going to trigger every so often, whenever you’re forced to make a saving throw. Compare this to just about any other capstone ability and you can easily see why it belongs at the 11th level, or maybe even 7th level slot.

Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System

Color and Tier ranking is very helpful when you’re trying to digest a lot of information.  In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • RedC Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
  • GreenB Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.  
  • BlueA Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. 
  • PurpleS Tier. The top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way.  No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.

Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.

While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast.

Race Choices

When it comes to choosing races, we want something that’s going to give us good dexterity and wisdom. Depending on how you choose to build this class, you can place either ability as your higher priority.

While my normal preference for ranger is to go high in dexterity (or strength) and throw wisdom second, you might want to consider making wisdom your highest ability.

With plenty of features and spells that force saving throws, you’ll want as good of a Wisdom modifier as you can get to set your DC high.

My top choices for the monster slayer are as follows:

Dhampir+2 one ability score, +1 in another; or +1 in three different ability scores. Free to build your abilities as you like, taking the three +1’s and spreading them across dex, con, and wis isn’t a bad idea at all, especially with a good set of rolls. 

The dhampir class has so much monster hunter lore built-in since they’re basically half-turned by monsters and out for revenge. They’re also packing some awesome abilities like spider climb and a vampiric bite with a lot of potential.

Wood Elf+2 Dex, +1 Wis. For the more combat and stealth-focused monster slayer, the wood elf makes a great choice, with plenty of stealthy abilities that are right at home in the ranger subclass. The elf race’s advantage on saving throws against being charmed is another great fit on this nemesis of mystical creatures.

Hawk-Headed Aven+2 Dex, +2 Wis. The Aven race from Plane Shift – Amonkhet are an excellent Egyptian inspired race that get a flying speed, proficiency in perception, and receive no disadvantage when making long-ranged attacks. Mostly though, we’re here for those unparalleled ability score bonuses. 

Water Genasi+2 Con, +1 Wis. This is an excellent race option if you’re looking to cast some more spells and focus on your wisdom. This race gives you access to the Shape Water cantrip in addition to other spells, a swimming speed, and resistance to acid damage, 

TCOE’s Custom Lineage+2 one ability score, +1 in another. Choices are great, and this is always a good option if your DM allows it at the table. What makes it particularly enticing here is that we’ll be picking up an extra feat when we create or character. That’ll give us a head start on the clean-up we need to do to make this class work.

Firbolg+2 Wis, +1 Str. Opting for strength instead of dexterity to get a healthy wisdom boost for a caster. The ability to turn invisible is wonderful, and you also get access to a couple helpful spells; Detect Magic and Disguise Self.

Skill Choices

We tend to choose these based on our highest stats, but choosing a different route based on how you want to roleplay isn’t a bad idea, especially since adding your proficiency bonus might compensate for a not-so-good ability modifier.

The ranger class is given the ability to choose three skills from Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.

Animal Handling (WIS) – This class really doesn’t have to do any animal handling unless you want to build it that way.

Athletics (STR) – I would take acrobatics over athletics, but that’s not an option here. Kind of a take-it-or-leave-it skill as far as I’m concerned.

Insight (WIS) – Understanding something’s motives isn’t super important to this subclass, but it might help you in niche situations.

Investigation (INT) – This can be helpful to discover more about a monster you’re tracking.

Nature (INT) – I would pass on this one.

Perception (WIS) – 100% take this proficiency. With a high wisdom and your proficiency bonus you should perceive everything.

Stealth (DEX) – There’s a bit of an emphasis in getting the drop on creatures with this subclass, which makes this a great option.

Survival (WIS) – Rangers are already the best at survival through their class features, so this can be a good option to cover all your bases.

Background Choices

When we look for a background we want to find some skills that synergize well with our ability scores, but that’s not all.

Monster slayers are extremely knowledgeable about all forms of monsters, so we should work on finding a background that has some sort of scholarly nature as well.

Archaeologist – Proficiency in History and Survival. If you want more of an Indiana Helsing (Van Jones?) feel, this is a very fun background with great proficiencies.

It also has one of the best features I’ve seen in a background. Historical knowledge allows you to determine who built a dungeon you enter and what the original purpose of it was. You can spread this out to 

Gladiator – Proficiency in Acrobatics and Performance. I mostly put this here because I think acrobatics is an excellent skill for rangers to grab. They are also great fighters, come with a unique weapon, and can put on fights to make money.

Monster Slayer Conclave Ranger Progression

Features that you automatically obtain through the Ranger class will appear in Orange and features that you gain through the Monster Slayer subclass will appear in Pink

Filling out the Character Sheet (Level 0)

Hit Dice: 1d10 per Ranger level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per ranger level after 1st

Proficiencies

Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields

Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons

Tools: None

Saving Throws: Strength, Dexterity

Skills: Choose three skills from Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.

Equipment:

You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) scale mail or (b) leather armor
  • (a) two shortswords or (b) two simple melee weapons
  • (a) a dungeoneer’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
  • A longbow and a quiver of 20 arrows

1st Level

Favored Enemy:

Choose a type of favored enemy: 

Aberrations, Beasts, Celestials, Constructs, Dragons, Elementals, Fey, Fiends, Giants, Monstrosities, Oozes, Plants, or two races of humanoid

You have advantage on survival checks to track your favored enemy and on any intelligence checks to recall information about them. You also learn a language spoken by them, if they speak any languages.

You choose additional favored enemies at 6th and 14th level in this class, and it’s a wise idea to choose favored enemies that you’ve frequently encountered in the campaign.

Natural Explorer:

Choose one type of favored terrain: 

Arctic, coast, desert, forest, grassland, mountain, swamp, or the Underdark

When you make intelligence or wisdom checks related to your favored terrain, your proficiency bonus is doubled. Additionally, you gain a slew of bonuses when traveling for an hour in your favored terrain as follows:

  • Difficult terrain doesn’t slow your group’s travel
  • Your group can’t become lost except by magical means.
  • Even when you are performing other activities while traveling, you remain alert to danger.
  • If you are traveling alone, you can move stealthily at normal pace.
  • When you forage for food, you find twice as much as normal.
  • While tracking other creatures, you learn their exact number, sizes, and how long ago they passed through the area.

You choose an additional terrain at 6th and 10th levels.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced a few options to completely replace existing features. You can opt for any of the four features, which include the following two, Primal Awareness at 3rd level, and Nature’s Veil at 10th level.

Favored Foe (Optional, replaces Favored Enemy):

When you hit a creature with an attack you can mark them as your favored enemy for 1 minute or until you lose concentration. You increase your damage dealt to the creature by 1d4 on your first hit against the creature on each of your turns. This extra damage increases to 1d6 at 8th level and 1d8 at 14th level.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses on a long rest.

Deft Explorer (Optional, replaces Natural Explorer):

This feature is actually split into three abilities one each at 1st, 6th, and 10th levels.

  • Canny (1st Level) – Choose one of your skill proficiencies to be doubled whenever you make the check. You also learn two additional languages.
  • Roving (6th Level) – Your walking speed increases by 5, and you gain a climbing and swimming speed equal to your walking speed.
  • Tireless (10th Level) – You can gain temporary HP equal to1d8 + your Wisdom modifier a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus. You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. Additionally, if you have any exhaustion levels you now drop 1 whenever you take a short rest or long rest.

2nd Level

Fighting Style:

While rangers don’t get quite as many fighting styles as the fighter, they still get a nice range of options to choose from. Check out our article on fighting styles to learn more, but the list of options is as follows:

  • Archery
  • Blindfighting
  • Defense
  • Druidic Warrior
  • Dueling
  • Thrown Weapon Fighting
  • Two-Weapon Fighting

Spellcasting:

Rangers use wisdom as their spellcasting ability, so your spell save DC is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier and your spell attack modifier is your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier.

Rangers know a number of spells listed on the ranger table above. Whenever you learn a new spell it must be of a spell level that you have slots for, which seems pretty obvious right?

Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to cast it. Fortunately, whenever you gain a level in Ranger you can replace a spell you know with a new one.

3rd Level

Primeval Awareness:

You can expend a spell slot as an action to heighten your awareness for a number of minutes equal to the level of the slot you choose. While your awareness is heightened you sense whether or not any of the following creature types are present within 1 mile of you (or 6 miles if you’re in your favored terrain… if you have a favored terrain): aberrations, celestials, dragons, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. 

This feature doesn’t reveal the creatures’ location or number.

Primal Awareness (Optional, replaces Natural Explorer):

Instead of a tracking feature, this ability heightens your focus by giving you access to more spells when you reach the following levels. These spells don’t count against your spells known.

  • 3rd: Speak with Animals
  • 5th: Beast Sense
  • 9th: Speak with Plants
  • 13th: Locate Creature
  • 17th: Commune with Nature

Monster Slayer Magic:

Your subclass gives you access to more spells when you reach the following levels. These spells don’t count against your spells known.

  • 3rd: Protection from Evil and Good
  • 5th: Zone of Truth
  • 9th: Magic Circle
  • 13th: Banishment
  • 17th: Hold Monster

Hunter’s Sense:

As an action, you can choose one creature you can see within 60 feet of you and immediately discern if they have any damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities unless they are protected from divination magic, in which case you learn that they have none of the above.

As an action, choose one creature you can see within 60 feet of you. You immediately learn whether the creature has any damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities and what they are.

Slayer’s Prey:

As a bonus action, you choose one creature within 60 feet of you that you can see to become your prey. The first time each turn that you hit that target with a weapon attack, it takes an extra 1d6 damage.

This benefit lasts until you finish a short or long rest. It ends early if you designate a different creature.

4th Level

ASI

You can either increase one ability by 2 points or two abilities by 1. Alternatively, you can choose a feature, if you already have great stats this is a great choice.

Martial Versatility (Optional):

You can choose to switch out your fighting style for a different one.

5th Level

Extra Attack:

Rangers get to make a second attack whenever they take the Attack action as a part of their turn.

7th Level

Supernatural Defense

You add a d6 to any saving throw you are forced to make by the target of your slayer’s prey, and to any ability checks to escape from their grapple.

8th Level

ASI

Land Stride:

Nonmagical difficult terrain doesn’t cost you any extra movement, nor do any plants that have thorns, spines, or other similar barb-like protrusions. Additionally, you are immune to damage from any such plants.

You also have advantage against the effects of any magically created plants designed to impede movement.

10th Level

Hide in Plain Sight:

You can spend one minute creating camouflage for yourself if you have access to the appropriate natural materials. 

The rest of this feature’s language is kind of strange. It states that “you can try to hide by pressing yourself up against a solid surface, such as a tree or wall, that is at least as tall and wide as you are.

To me, this suggests that you can’t hide in a bush, in the canopy of a tree, or basically anywhere else that I can actually picture a ranger hiding. 

While I’d highly suggest giving yourself some more options for hiding, specifically by talking to your DM about how much they’ll allow, the feature does still give you a bonus to stealth. As long as you’re not moving in your hiding place, you’ll be picking up a very healthy +10 bonus.

Weirdly enough, once you take an action or reaction you have to go through the entire process of hiding yourself to receive the bonus again.

Nature’s Veil (Optional):

As a bonus action you can magically turn yourself invisible until the beginning of your next turn. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus and regain all expended uses on a long rest.

This is a great feature replacement for Hide in Plain Sight. While this is limited in how many times a day you can use it, it’s not limited to very oddly specific places, and it’s something that you can use effectively in combat.

11th Level

Magic-User’s Nemesis

You can try to counter a spell or teleport once a day (once per long rest). If you see a creature within 60 feet of you try to do either of those, you can force them to make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC. If they fail they do not successfully cast the spell or teleport.

12th Level

ASI

14th Level

Vanish:

You can take the Hide action as a bonus action. You also can not be tracked except for by magical means or when you choose to leave a trail.

15th Level

Slayer’s Counter: 

This is a rather interesting ability. It allows you to make a reaction attack whenever the target of your slayer’s prey forces you to make a saving throw before you make the saving throw. If you succeed in hitting them you automatically succeed your save. 

16th Level

ASI

18th Level

Feral Senses:

Lack of sight doesn’t impose disadvantage on your attacks. Additionally, as long as you aren’t blinded or deafened you know the location of any invisible creature within 30 feet of you that isn’t actively hidden from you.

19th Level

ASI

20th Level

Foe Slayer:

Once on each of your turns, you can add your wisdom modifier to your attack or damage rolls that you make against your favored enemy, or favored foe if you opted for that feat.

Feat Options

We really want to get some good feats for this class. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and we’ll need to make that up as best we can.

If you don’t get good rolls for your ability scores you’ll be a lot more limited in your options, but you’ll still want to grab up at least two or three feats to turn the monster slayer into what it is supposed to be.

There are basically two builds to focus on for this subclass. One boosts their martial prowess and focuses on dexterity or strength. The other focuses on wisdom and uses it to cast more spells than your average half-caster.

Melee Improvement Feats:

Crossbow ExpertAnother Van Helsing influence, I think crossbows are an excellent weapon for monster slayers. This feat lets you use them effectively, losing close range disadvantage and loading properties, and picking up the ability to make bonus action attacks with your crossbow.

Mage SlayerThis should be included already in this subclass. It allows you to make melee weapon reaction attacks whenever a creature casts a spell within 5 feet of you, which gives you way more consistency than slayer’s counter. It also gives you advantage on all saving throws to spells cast within 5 feet of you, which is perfect. This feature lets you get up in the midst of magical beings and mess them up.

MobileAn increase to speed of 10ft along with dash as a bonus action lets you move where you’re needed and keep up with just about any target of your slayer’s prey. You’ll also benefit greatly from protection from opportunity attacks whenever you hit a creature.

Savage AttackerThis ability lets you reroll your damage once per turn, which is really nice if you go to roll a bunch of extra damage against your slayer’s prey and you get a few ones.

Heavy Caster Feats:

If you’re going to build around this, your wisdom is going to be your highest stat. We’re looking for more access to spells, and more bang for our buck when we do cast them.

This build is also definitely going to want to take the druidic warrior fighting style so they can get access to two druid cantrips. One of those cantrips should definitely be Shillelagh so that you can use your wisdom modifier instead of strength to make your most powerful melee attacks.

War CasterGreat for any partial caster, this feat will allow you to wield weapons in cast spells without the penalties of switching back and forth. It will also give you advantage on constitution saves to hold concentration, a huge bonus to someone in the midst of combat.

Spell SniperThis doubles the range of your spells which require attack rolls which just gets more impressive the larger a spell’s starting range is. It’s also going to give you access to a cantrip that requires an attack roll, which you’ll want to pick up from the druid or cleric list so you can use your wisdom modifier.

Primal Savagery and Thorn Whip are excellent options, with Thorn Whip’s range going up to 60 feet and Primal Savagery’s damage scaling all the way up to 4d10 by 17th level.

Fey / Shadow TouchedBoth of these are great feats that will let you boost your wisdom by 1 and get access to some great spells. Fey influence gives you access to Misty Step, and shadowfell influence gives you access to Invisibility. With each feat also giving you access to a 1st-level divination or enchantment spell, it’s a great grab to increase your magical prowess.

Magic InitiateAccess to two cantrips and one 1st-level spell from a class’s spell list, of which you’ll probably want to go with cleric or druid since they are wisdom based. Just another excellent way to pick up spells.

Monster Slayer Ranger Build

We’ll take a look at how to build the best version of a monster slayer that makes full use of their casting abilities.

For the following example build we’ve used the standard set of scores provided in the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) when deciding ability scores. The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you will have the opportunity to make a decision on how your adventurer grows.

Race: Firbolg

Background: Archaeologist

Ability Scores: STR 11 (+0), DEX 14 (+2), CON 13 (+1), INT 10 (+0), WIS 17(+3), CHA 8(-1)

Skill Proficiencies: History, Survival, Stealth, Perception, Survival

Language Proficiencies: Common, Elvish, Giant, Draconic

Tool Proficiencies: Navigator’s Tools

Equipment:  Leather armor, a quarterstaff, a light crossbow, an explorer’s pack, a longbow, a quiver of 20 arrows, a wooden case containing a map to a ruin or dungeon, a bullseye lantern, a miner’s pick, a set of traveler’s clothes, a shovel, a two-person tent, a trinket recovered from a dig site, and a pouch containing 25 gp. 

1st Level

We’ll definitely be taking Favored Foe, as it’s far superior to Favored Enemy. That extra d4 (or d6, or d8, depending on your level) is going to make our slayer’s prey wish they never met us. 

Deft Explorer is also a great variant feature that we’ll want to pick up. With the Canny ability at 1st level we’ll take proficiency in Acrobatics and Insight. We’ll pick up Abyssal and Undercommon for the Canny languages.

2nd Level

Fighting Style: We should feel almost required to take druidic warrior for a spell based ranger build. Access to two cantrips is very hard to pass up for a class that normally has to rely on nothing more than a small stock of spell slots. 

Shillelagh is a must-have, it’s going to turn our quarterstaff into a magical weapon that deals 1d8, and uses wisdom instead of strength for attack rolls. With this, we can overcome nonmagical resistances and still be a melee combatant without having to put dexterity as our highest. 

Resistance and Guidance are two great cantrips that can allow you to support your allies when the need arises.

1st-level Spells:

Hunter’s MarkThis is basically a staple of the ranger class. It lets you deal an extra 1d6 damage to a selected target, much like Slayer’s Prey. Fortunately, the two stack together since Slayer’s Prey requires no concentration, which is a great way to deal up to 12 extra damage once per turn on your favored target or even have multiple targets active.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stack with Favored Foe because both require concentration. You’ll want to use Hunter’s Mark until Favored Foe increases to 1d6 at 6th level, at which point you can replace Hunter’s Mark with something new.

Absorb ElementsThis is a really fun reaction spell that reduces incoming damage (acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder) by giving you resistance to it, and then lets you deal 1d6 of that damage type on the first attack of your next turn. Already at 2nd level you could be dealing an extra 3d6 of damage on the first attack you make against a creature if you have the right setup going for you.

Zephyr StrikeWhile I would caution against putting too many concentration spells in your arsenal, this is a great spell to quickly get across the battlefield and deal some staggering damage.

It protects you from opportunity attacks and is going to give you a one-time advantage on an attack roll, followed by an extra 1d8 of force damage and an increased movement speed of 30 feet. That’s an additional 30 feet of movement, not just bringing you up to 30 if you’re lower than it.

3rd Level

I don’t much care for either the Primeval or Primal Awareness features, but since Primal Awareness gives us access to more spells, it’s a clear choice. 

4th Level

ASI: We’ll want to get right on the feats, and we’ll actually start with War Caster. Getting this early means that we can really be a melee combatant that casts our spells, and we can keep a hold on our concentration for Hunter’s Mark just that much better.

5th Level 

2nd-Level Spells:

Cordon of Arrows – This is a ridiculously cool ranger spell that essentially lets you set up a trap or defensive circle by placing four arrows into the ground. These now magical arrows will trigger when unwanted creatures come within 30 feet of them and they will fly up, dealing 1d6 piercing damage if the creature fails a dex save.

Each arrow triggers individually, so you’re dealing up to 24 damage with this excellently themed ranger spell.

Spike Growth – While this is another concentration spell, it’s excellent to set up a trap for Thorn Whip, which you should be picking up rather soon if you didn’t already grab it as one of your druidic warrior cantrips.

Since spike growth deals damage when a creature travels 10 feet through an area, and thorn whip can pull a creature up to 10 feet, it’s an excellent way to deal one or more d6 (depending on your level) plus 4d4, along with however much damage it takes the creature to get out of the area, with just a little bit of setup.

8th Level

ASI: We’ll take Spell Sniper to increase our spells’ range, ignore cover for our ranged spells, and pick up either the Thorn Whip or Primal Savagery cantrips.

9th Level 

3rd-Level Spells: 

Most 3rd level ranger spells require concentration or don’t actually let you do all that much. These are the only two I would recommend adding to your known spells list.

Conjure Barrage: You either throw a nonmagical weapon or fire a piece of ammunition into the air, and watch as a cone of identical objects come down as a swarm upon all your foes in a 60 foot cone. This spell deals 3d8 to each creature that fails it’s saving throw, and with such a big range that’s a lot of creatures that will feel your wrath. 

Lightning Arrow: Although this is a concentration spell, it only has to last until the next time you make a ranged weapon attack. If you hit, your target takes 4d8 lightning damage, and whether or not you hit, creatures within 10 feet of your target take 2d8 on a failed dex save.

If you miss your attack, your target still takes half damage, and surrounding targets take half damage if they succeed on their saving throws.

10th Level

Nature’s Veil lets us become invisible… clearly we’re taking this feature.

12th Level 

ASI: We’ll take a step away from feats to give our wisdom 2 more points, moving us up to 19 wisdom with a +4 modifier.

13th Level

4th-Level Spells:

Guardian of Nature: Another concentration spell that makes it worth it to do something other than Favored Foe. If you choose the great tree option you’ll have advantage on constitution saving throws, and make your wisdom and dexterity-based spells with advantage. That means MOST rolls that you are making will have advantage, way better than an extra 1d8 damage per turn in the long run, especially with how many nat 20s you’ll be able to pull.

Plus this has more abilities tied to it, like 10 temporary hit points and the ground within 15 feet of you becoming difficult terrain for enemies. The fact this lasts for a minute means you won’t have to worry about burning through 4th level spell slots as long as you can hold your concentration.

This spell is so perfect for you that I won’t even suggest any other 4th level spells, although you’re free to do as you wish.

16th Level

ASI: We’ll pick up Fey Touched, which we’ll use to boost our wisdom up to 20, getting that sweet +5 modifier. Your 1st level spell will only be one time use per long rest, but there are a few options that are really nice to have in your backpocket.

Charm, Command, Bane, Beast Bond, and Bless are all great choices.

17th Level

5th-Level Spells:

Conjure Volley: This essentially an upcasted Conjure Barrage that deals a whopping 8d8 to each creature in a 20-foot high cylinder with a radius of 40 feet that fails their saving throw.

19th Level

ASI: We’ll actually take a +2 to our constitution, which admittedly we could’ve done much earlier.


Beginner’s Guide to Monster Slayer Ranger

If you’re just starting out playing D&D, it’s probably a good idea to avoid the monster slayer ranger subclass. While the concept is INCREDIBLY appealing, and I completely understand that the execution for this conclave really falls short of the communities expectations.

It’s not such a bad class that I’ll straight up tell you to completely disregard it, but it’s certainly not winning any accolades. It’s what I call a challenge subclass.

For the person who has played D&D and is looking for a more challenging build, for the person who loves crunching numbers and coming up with creative solutions to the many problems of this subclass, for the person who loves roleplay and could care less how effective their character is in combat, this can be a great character.

New players might very well be able to figure out every little niche ability and exactly when to trigger various spell effects for the most powerful combos. I’m not saying that new players aren’t capable of that, trust me I was coming up with creative effects after the second time I sat down to play.

In my experience though, a challenge character can take away from the novelty of a player’s first experience at the table.

Players that are just starting out should be excited whenever they get to meet with their friends, not worried about how they’re going to “successfully” play their character.

Playing the Monster Slayer Well

It’s at times like these that I wonder, what would Van Helsing do? If there’s a monster slayer out there whose name will live in infamy, surely it is the sworn enemy of Count Dracula and the many beasts of Transylvania.

Seriously though, how do we play this class well? How does a newcomer to the game still get everything that they want out of this painstaking subclass? 

The first thing you need to do is figure out how you want to play it. Rangers are half-casters. This means that they use weapons and spells, combining the two types of combat to make themselves a versatile threat. It also means that you can choose which side of your character to focus more on.

The monster slayer is a mostly defensive subclass that is prepared to go toe to toe with all forms of magic-wielding creatures. They choose a target in combat and focus all their ire on them, dodging their hits and striking true with each hit.

You can do this better by making your weapons deal more damage, or by making your spells more crafty. Using feats, races, and even potentially multiclass options, you can pick up new abilities that work really well with this subclass. 

A martial combatant will want to focus on their dexterity since this also increases the rangers AC and their stealth skill checks. Then they’ll want to pick up a good fighting style, one that allows them to deal more damage or hit more often will be perfect.

After that, it’s all about the abilities you choose, and which weapons you choose to use. Your spells will just be supplemental, filling in the blanks when you don’t need to attack or when you can buff yourself or your allies.

A casting-focused ranger will boost their wisdom all the way up so their spell save DC and spell attack modifier are both brutal for their foes. Since the ranger is limited to 1st through 5th level spells, with far less spell slots than a full caster, you’ll want to pick up some cantrips and extra spells wherever you can. 

One of the best ways to do this is through the druidic warrior fighting style, which gives you access to two druid cantrips. There are plenty of good options, but Shillelagh is a must.

Seriously, I rarely say anything is necessary, but you’ll need Shillelagh to make this build work.

It allows you to turn a quarterstaff into a magical weapon that uses your wisdom modifier instead of strength for attack rolls. This will allow you to still be an efficient combatant even though your dexterity will be much lower.

Then you pick up more spells and focus on ones that can really change the battlefield, getting the most value each time you use the very limited resource that is your spell slot pool.

And get a crossbow, crossbows are cool, and every monster hunter or slayer or whatever you want to call them should have one. 

That’s really as much as I can say for a beginner’s guide. Most of the time you can skip the rest of the article and just read this section. Unfortunately, there are enough details that I would just be reiterating everything above if I really wanted to explain it for a newcomer to the D&D table.

Any character can be a slayer of monsters, which is what I tell myself whenever I think of just how mediocre this subclass ended up being. Sure, it can be a good subclass if you put the work in, but personally, I want the work I put in to turn a good class into a great class, not just to ensure my survival.

If you want to play a monster slayer, tie it into your backstory and pick up whatever character you want. It’s all in how you roleplay it really, anything from a wizard to a barbarian can harbor a vengeance towards the vile creatures that haunt children’s and warrior’s dreams alike.

Still, if you want to play this character, you can, and I hope this guide has made it a bit of an easier process.

As always, happy adventuring.